It is time to stop the chorus of blackmail assailing Syriza, the radical Greek left party poised to win the Sunday election, from all sort of pundits, international officials and, above all, Merkel - along the lines that if their anti-bailout platform wins the June 17 contest then Greece would be pushed out of the Euro. For, the real issue now is not about economics but about the geopolitics of the eastern Mediterranean
It is rumoured that a new pan-European Redemption Fund is in the pipeline, proposed by Germany to its embattled European periphery, in order to help them out of their economic woes. This, among other features, includes a banking union and the issuing of Euro-bonds, necessitating a transfer union and, in the future, a fiscal union. This would mean Germany sharing the debt of the periphery, whether banking or sovereign, and in return, asking its partners to surrender their gold reserves to Brussels. Would it work? I doubt it. But let us shift the focus of discussion on Greece and the EU from its preoccupation with economics and politics to something rather different: geopolitics and international relations. Why would this be worthwhile?
Greece straddles geo-politics and European modernity in a very peculiar way. It has always been a peripheral and semi-modernised Balkan economy whose national integration took more than 100 years to achieve, following wars against its Balkan neighbours and Turkey. But by virtue of where it sits on the map, especially if combined with Cyprus, it enjoys a considerable geo-strategic advantage. So the historical fault-lines of the country have been and remain a weak political economy, on the one hand, and a strong geo-political/geo-strategic presence on the other.
Greece, for example, by virtue of its position in the Aegean, has the power to block the Aegean Sea (trade, communication lines, sea lanes, flight information region etc.), thus causing havoc in global seaborne trade going through the Turkish straits, disrupting oil and gas pipeline projects and sapping NATO and European security in the region. Obviously, such a contingency would involve Cyprus and Turkey, and perhaps Israel, to say the least, inasmuch as Israel’s security is unwarranted if Cyprus is not overseen by a friendly power. Make no mistake: if Greece gets upset, that is to say, if Greek society and domestic politics is pushed by outside powers, ie the ‘troika’, to acts of despair, then this eventuality is not so unlikely.
This dimension is worth flagging up for two reasons. The first is to remind readers that Greece and, for that matter, divided Cyprus, did not enter the EC/EU for what it might be worth economically and politically, but for what they needed geo-politically and security-wise. The second reason is conjunctural. The situation in Greece is very volatile. There is already an un-announced bank run, the result of Merkel’s and Lagarde’s blackmail, society’s plight and desperation are well known – more than 22% unemployment, over 50% youth unemployment, 7% GDP contraction, increased levels of suicide – and the political system in a massive restructuring after the collapse of corrupt two-party rule, the radical left having potentially become a hegemonic force. Under Cold War conditions, Greece, in all likelihood, would have had a coup in order to be kept within the NATO fold. Politically, Greece today resembles very much the mid-1960s, the sole difference being that at that time, the economy of the country was booming, accompanied by popular demand for the democratic opening-up of the political system. But then, as now, the Cyprus and the Aegean issues were/are lurking in the background.
It was not politically responsible on the part of Turkey, given the social and political conditions of Greek society and politics today, to rename its ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’, the ‘Turkish Republic of Cyprus’, making now official its semi-secret desire to lay claim not only to the area it invaded and occupied in summer 1974, but also to the entire terrain of Cyprus. This means a lot to a radical Athens, and should mean even more to an embattled Merkel in Berlin, not to speak of Obama. Equally irresponsible have been Erdogan’s public remarks that the Greeks should not be so hypocritical over the Aegean issue (delimitation of the islands’ continental shelf, Athens’ FIR etc.) since in the bailout agreements they signed they have basically mortgaged the islands to Germany.
This is not good news for Merkel and Obama, ie for the EU and NATO. Turkey, with or without receiving the green light from the west, may challenge a new radical left government in Greece on 18 June. The loser will not be Greece. Remember that Greece is now populated by an almost pauperised society, brought about by the profligacy of financial capital and the monetarist policies of Germany, and politically dominated by a radical left. Greece can speak now directly to the Turkish and Balkan peoples, its real neighbours about working together to build a new sustainable and green developmental project in the former Ottoman space. It is not under any subservient junta rule and demands to be treated as an equal. If Merkel intends to go ahead with her threats of expelling Greece from the Euro-zone in the event that Syriza wins on Sunday, would she also have the guts to bear the full consequences of the above? Frankly, I don’t think so. She knows that. Obama knows that, and that is why this is an empty threat that is being made, in order to contain the collapse of the corrupt two-party system on 17 June.